Yesterday's news of SimsVille's cancelation came as a surprise to Maxis' countless SimCity and The Sims fans. After all, SimsVille promised to combine gameplay elements from those two respective series of city-building and life-simulation games, which have proven so successful to the company in recent years. We received word of the sudden cancelation from a high-level and reliable source at Maxis, who chose to remain nameless in our news story, and while that person provided us with some important details about the decision to cancel the game, we still had many unanswered questions. What were the specific reasons for SimsVille's cancelation? Who made the final decision? What will become of the game's impressive 3D technology? For answers to those questions and more, we sat down with Maxis' director of marketing, Patrick Buechner, who was able to shed some light on yesterday's unfortunate news.
GameSpot: Patrick, was it Maxis or Electronic Arts that decided to cancel the game?
Patrick Buechner: The decision definitely came from within Maxis. It was a studio decision that involved the members of the SimsVille design team as well as a number of senior [executives]. At Maxis, we constantly evaluate all of our games during different stages of development, and during the constant review process for SimsVille, we decided that the game didn't live up to our standards.
GS: What exactly didn't live up to your standards? Can you tell us specifically which parts were lacking?
PB: For the past three years, we've had an extremely high standard for our games, and our customers have come to expect a certain consistent quality of gameplay from us. And while SimsVille had certain fun elements to it, the game had other parts that simply weren't as fun. For me, specifically, the first 10 minutes of building up my town was always enjoyable, but once I got past that part, the game became less compelling. Similar issues also influenced our decision.
GS: So would you say that SimsVille's design initially looked good on paper but was poorly executed within the game?
PB: No, I wouldn't say that. Our design process at Maxis is very different from that of other studios, and that's how we've been able to create such hit products recently. The secret to our success is what we call an iterative design process, wherein we constantly reevaluate a specific game's design as we develop it. For example, The Sims changed quite dramatically from when Will Wright originally envisioned it seven years ago as a game about architecture to what the final game is about today. SimsVille also changed a lot from when we first started working on it more than a year and a half ago, and the decision to cancel its development didn't have anything to do with [its original concept].
GS: Another reason cited for the cancelation was that The Sims: Hot Date will include some of the same features that SimsVille included. Does Maxis plan to include more SimsVille features in upcoming expansion packs for The Sims?
PB: Well, the whole reason we came up with the idea for SimsVille was the feedback from The Sims players, who were asking to see the lives of their Sims outside the house. They were sick of being stuck indoors, and while that aspect of The Sims is still fun, players wanted to know what goes on in their Sims' lives outside the house. The Sims: Hot Date lets players do everything they've been asking for, like hang out at the bar, have a picnic downtown, go shopping, and so on. After a while, we found that it was simply more fun than what we had in SimsVille.
GS: The official SimsVille Web site states that development of the game has been suspended. Does this mean that it hasn't been completely canceled? Is it possible that the game could be reworked to meet Maxis' standards and be released sometime in the future?
PB: No, SimsVille has been completely canceled. The game's idea is a good one, but it's not something we're currently thinking about reviving. We've got a lot of other projects we're working on, and we're focused on those right now.
GS: Did SimsVille's more mature content, such as adult theaters and armed robberies, have anything to do with the decision to cancel the project?
PB: No, certainly not. The Sims was a teen-rated game, and it had a lot of content that we consider to be cutting edge, so we're not afraid of dealing with mature content. Besides, the adult theaters and such in SimsVille simply represented the same kind of sense of humor that was found in The Sims. Ultimately, we were shooting for a teen rating for SimsVille, and if that content would have prevented us from getting such a rating, we would have simply removed it.
GS: Was EA or Maxis worried at all that SimsVille might compete with The Sims Online? Did that have any effect on the decision to cancel the game?
PB: No. SimsVille had a play experience that was unique from that of The Sims Online, and fans were excited about it. But the last thing we want is for our fans to be excited about one of our products, have them buy it, go home, and be disappointed with it. Honestly, we could have sold hundreds of thousands of copies of [SimsVille], but people wouldn't have had a great play experience with the game. It was a tough decision that we made--knowing that there's a lot of anticipation around a product, but having the will to say "This doesn't meet our standards."
GS: How close was SimsVille to completion when it was canceled?
PB: We were hoping to have the game done by March 2002, so I'd say we were about 60 percent complete.
GS: Will Maxis use some of the content and technology from SimsVille in its other upcoming games? Can you share any specific things from SimsVille that we'll see in new games? Will SimsVille's 3D engine be used in any new games?
PB: A 3D environment for some future Sims game is certainly something we want to do, but it won't be incorporated into anything that we've publicly announced, including The Sims Online.
GS: What projects are the people who were developing SimsVille working on now?
PB: They're all working on a variety of projects, including The Sims Online and several unannounced games.
GS: Is there anything you'd like to express to gamers who are disappointed with the cancelation of the game?
PB: I'd just like to reiterate that most of what the fans were looking for in SimsVille, we will be delivering in Hot Date. These people will really be satisfied with the town-building experience and other aspects of that expansion pack.
GS: How are Maxis' other projects coming along? When can we expect to see The Sims: Hot Date and The Sims Online in stores?
PB: We're all set for a November release date for The Sims: Hot Date, and The Sims Online is still on schedule for a late 2002 release.
GS: Thanks for your time, Patrick.